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Susan Green

CIO-AFL Assail Labor Draft Bill;
Fight Efforts to Cripple Unions

(24 January 1944)

From Labor Action, Vol. 8 No. 4, 24 January 1944, pp. 1 & 2.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’ Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).

There is no doubt at all that the purpose of a national service law, or conscription of labor, proposed by the President, is a strike-breaking device.

Only the uninformed can believe that this measure is proposed to solve the manpower question. The simple fact is that the “manpower situation” has turned into the beginning of an unemployment situation.

Steel workers are being laid off because of cut-backs in war orders. The same is true of aluminum workers and many others. As R.J. Thomas, president of the United Automobile Workers, stared: “Great numbers of our war workers are being laid off. Others are denied full-time employment.”

With this development in unemployment, there are no two ways about the meaning of the proposed conscription of labor: IT IS AN ATTEMPT TO TAKE AWAY FROM LABOR ITS BASIC RIGHT TO STRIKE. And the President said as much in his message to Congress.

A further fact that makes it quite clear that labor conscription is not prompted by a manpower shortage is the fact that thousands upon thousands of capable and skilled Negro workers are kept out of jobs for which they are suited.

It may, therefore, be confusing to some workers why there should be opposition in Congress to the President’s proposal to conscript labor as an anti-strike measure. Opposition in Congress is pretty strong. The latest news from Washington, as Labor Action goes to press, is that the House Military Affairs Committee voted to “postpone indefinitely further consideration of such legislation” as recommended by the President.

In the Halls of Congress

Does this perchance indicate a pro-labor attitude in the halls of Congress? Banish the thought. What the anti-labor contingent in Congress is looking for is to put more teeth into the Smith-Connally bill, Mr. Smith, one of the authors of that boss law aimed at the very heart of labor and that specimen of capitalist politician known as a Southern Democrat – has already proposed a brand new bill that “would outlaw strikes for the duration through the application of sanctions.”

In a word, while the President, in his usual suave way, seeks to take away from the working class the right to strike in a round-about fashion, his opponents in Congress want no monkey-shines, but a direct, definite and unmistakable anti-strike law with sharper teeth than the Smith-Connally law has.


An Attack on Unionism

Naturally every attempt to take away from labor its strike weapon is also an attack on unionism itself! Very bluntly this angle is covered by Phelps Adams, reporting in the New York Sun on the new Smith bill. Mr. Adams stated: “The effect of the legislation would be to wipe an offending union out of existence for the duration of the war.”

No less than that – “to wipe an offending union out of existence”! At least that’s stated so every worker can understand its meaning.

But how about President Roosevelt’s way? Is his way less anti-union? Let us see what Presidents Green and Murray of the AFL and CIO have to say about that?

These misguided labor leaders who have been so busy around Washington pointed out that the Senate committee considering the Austin-Wadsworth national service bill – which is along the lines of the President’s proposal – has written into the bill an anti-closed shop provision. This committee also proposes what is called by labor a “Pegler” amendment giving any worker conscripted by the government for a certain job, the right to refuse to join a union.

The Austin-Wadsworth bill is a little more involved and veiled than the proposed new Smith bill. But the big stick with which to hit labor’s organizations is stamped all over it.

Heads or Tails

For the workers, the Roosevelt way and the Smith way add up to a case of “Heads you win – tails I lose!” Victory for either the national service bill or for direct anti-strike legislation means defeat for the workers – and a loss of ground for the worker-soldiers who will be well off when they get back home only if labor defends and enlarges the rights of labor. And the anger against the Roosevelt proposal from all labor – except the disloyal Stalinist-controlled unions – indicates that labor knows what this is all about.

Labor, official weekly of fifteen railroad brotherhoods, has gone to town in denunciation of the President’s labor conscription plan. But still it cannot get over the deep hurt it feels that Roosevelt has gone back on the workers. It makes the point:

“It was incomprehensible to them that the man who, since he was first elected Governor of New York in 1928 has been the recipient of the support and devotion of American workers, could, in all seriousness, urge that these workers be subjected to involuntary servitude.”

What is really incomprehensible is that American labor should still be messing around in capitalist politics, becoming “devoted” now to this capitalist politician and now to another who beats his chest and calls himself a “friend of labor.”

The lesson to be drawn from this vile attack on the labor movement from all sides – from the side of its self-proclaimed “friends” and from the side of its outspoken enemies – is that labor must move forward politically. Its political strength can be realized only through the medium of a national independent Labor Party – protecting the class interests and projecting the class demands of the workers.

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